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Haiti is hot and humid all the time, although it can get down into the 60s on the little country’s central plateau. Diseases are a problem — malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, some hepatitis, tetanus. Nevertheless, Bob Routh and Adele Dellavalle-Routh are frequent visitors. Most years, they go down there twice.
Adele Dellavalle-Routh got interested in Haiti 30 years ago when she was a nun. Yes, you can be a former nun and still be a Roman Catholic in good standing. Adele was released, with papal permission, from the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary about 25 years ago.
Before that, she and her fellow nuns were working to help migrant Haitian workers in the Chilhowie area.
“The migrant work was brutal,” she said.
However, there was also a brutal dictatorship running the show in Haiti at the time. Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as “Baby Doc” was in charge and the nuns wanted to help the men avoid having to go back to that, and to get their families out. The nuns taught them English and helped them move to Roanoke where a priest put them up in the parish rectory. They helped them find jobs and, when their families got here, got their children into schools.
As part of this, Adele wanted to go to Haiti to see where the men came from. She studied at Indiana University, which had a special Haitian Creole program, in order to learn the language. She progressed rapidly thanks to the fact that she had native speakers to practice with.
Creole is based on French and 80 percent of its vocabulary is from French. The rest of the words are of African origin or come from Portuguese, Spanish and English. Adele said that it’s much easier to understand a people if you know their language. They also react positively to you when you speak to them in their own language.
Adele was horrified and dismayed by what she saw when she got there. One of the things was the smell, a combination of sewage, diesel fumes, smoke from burning garbage and dust.
“It made such an impression on me,” she said.
The people also made an impression on her.
“They can cope like nobody I’ve ever seen,” she commented.
Thus began a permanent involvement with Haiti.
After she left the order, she met Bob Routh. Routh is a World War II veteran who served at a communication station on Adak, an island in the Aleutian Island chain. It’s right next door to Attu, the last and westernmost island in the chain, closer to Russia than it is to the North American mainland. The weather could be fierce, five below zero with an 80 mph wind. Routh served from 1943 to 1946.
Routh and his first wife, Sally settled in Bedford County on the shore of Smith Mountain Lake in 1985. After Sally’s death in 1987, he met Adele and the two married in 1991. She got him interested in Haiti. Bob Routh’s first trip there was in 1990.
The two have served in various capacities there. They’ve been official civilian observers for a presidential election. They’ve also been there under a program called Cry for Justice, sponsored by Pax Christi. This was in 1993 and it was during a time of another dictatorship.
“We were both assigned to a really remote area,” Adele said.
To enter the country, they had to camouflage their reason to be there, so they told the Haitian government that they were there as missionaries to start a school. The government eventually figured out who they were, but they were able to stay. They even stayed after the U. S. Government advised all American citizens to leave.
They, and others who went to Haiti as part of Cry for Justice, helped buffer the dictatorships brutality because they were foreign eyes and ears. The government wanted to limit what they saw, so it was careful. It also wanted to avoid an ugly international incident, so they were relatively safe.
Adele has also worked on a project under which the Diocese of Richmond twinned with the Haitian Diocese of Hinche in the center of the country. Adele, due to her experience in Haiti, served as an adviser to Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, then the bishop of the Diocese of Richmond.
A number of Roman Catholic parishes in the diocese have developed relationships outside the Diocese of Hinche and Resurrection Catholic Church, in Moneta is in partnership with Foyer des Filles de Dieu, an orphanage for girls in Port-au-Prince. Bob initiated this relationship.
The orphanage is currently home to 63 girls ranging in age from 3 to 21. All the girls learn reading, writing and arithmetic along with a career skill. They also get a lot of hands-on work experience as the older girls help the founder, Paula Thybulle, runs the place.
Life was tough in Haiti before the earthquake. Electricity only ran three hours a day and the orphanage has its own water purification system to ensure that the girls have safe water to drink.
It’s gotten worse since. The orphanage was partially destroyed and three girls were killed. The water system was damaged, although it has been repaired. Repairing anything is always a challenge in Haiti.
“Parts are very hard to get,” Bob said.
The goal is to build a new orphanage on two-and-a-quarter acres of land 15 miles outside Port-au-Prince. An attorney named Bob Greene, from Buffalo, N.Y., is spearheading this effort. He has received one challenge grant for $50,000 and matched that. Now, he has a second challenge grant for $50,000 and has raised $20,000 in matching funds. He needs to raise the entire match by Jan. 15. The estimated cost of rebuilding the orphanage is $400,000.
Plans include electrifying the new orphanage with solar panels so that Foyer won’t depend on Haiti’s erratic power grid. They also include making the new orphanage earthquake-resistant. For more information about this project, visit www.haitianorphanagefund.com on the Web. Adele said that contributions to this effort are being channeled via a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization.
Haiti’s problems remain huge. The rubble from the earthquake still remains. Haitians are energetic and willing to work, but Bob said that nobody is organizing work to clear rubble or demolish dangerous buildings damaged by the quake. There isn’t any heavy equipment there; nothing is taking place for long term sustainability.
Bob and Adele said that the main message that Haitians have wanted them to take back to the U. S. after their visits is to tell people here what it’s like there. To accomplish that, they are ready to talk to churches and civic groups.
To schedule them, call (540) 297-6493 or e-mail DelRauth@aol.com
Haiti is located 700 miles southeast of Miami, Fla. It occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola. The rest is occupied by the Dominican Republic. The country is about the size of Maryland.
Haiti has a population of 9 million, 80 percent of whom are Roman Catholic. Another 10 percent are Protestant.
Only 15 percent of the rural population has access to safe drinking water and most families have no electricity. Over 3.5 million people live in slums. Haiti is the fourth poorest country in the world and life expectancy for a Haitian is 49 years.